With an ear to the ground and an eye to the future, TFTD 2022 looked at what must be done and how to bridge today’s skills and access gaps in education and employment and pave the way for fulfilling untapped potential.
With a focus on building an inclusive educational environment that fosters innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets, encourages STEM skills and creative problemsolving, and establishes a proactive learning-to-learn mentality that sets the foundations for agility and adaptability in an ever-changing labor market, AmChamGR’s convened its second Thessaloniki Future Thinking Dialogues (TFTD) forum on June 27-28, 2022. Held in hybrid format—with speakers participating remotely as well as onsite at the MET Hotel in Thessaloniki—and titled “Education Interoperability: Connecting the Dots,” TFTD 2022 gave a platform to a stellar lineup of speakers, who came together in insightful discussions, exchanged ideas and perspectives, and highlighted a range of crucial best practices and fantastic initiatives, all concerning the future of learning and work environments.
Featuring stakeholders from across the education, innovation and technology value chains—including business leaders, senior civil servants and local government officers, policymakers, academics and researchers, educators and other specialists—in Greece and abroad, the forum focused on the development of innovation, new technologies and entrepreneurship in educational institutions, and the vital need to bridge theory and practice and equip students and learners of all ages with future-ready skills and competencies. Taking into consideration the ongoing changes in education, the discussions revolved around inclusion, digital transformation, skills development and future skills needs, with an eye to deepening and strengthening the ties between academia and industry.
TFTD 2022 kicked off with opening remarks by Nikolaos Bakatselos, President of AmChamGR, and Vassilis Kafatos, Vice President of the BoD and Chair of the Northern Greece Committee at AmChamGR, as well as US Consul General Elizabeth K. Lee, who highlighted the potential of longterm collaborations between Greek universities and private sector companies to generate academic acceleration, expertise and more research funding; Consul Lee also stressed the need for more people, especially women, to participate in tech, and pointed to US initiatives to this end in Greece, including American Tech Lab, Code Girls and STEM Stars Greece. With a total of 25 focused and engaging sessions over its two days, the forum examined a range of important topics.
Changing Education in a Practical Way
In the forum’s first session, Deputy Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Evangelos Syrigos discussed the ministry’s “New Horizons in Institutions of Higher Education” bill, which aims to improve interconnectivity between the country’s universities and labor market, as well as with the Greek scientific diaspora, reduce bureaucracy relating to scientific research, and support startups and innovation.
Zooming Out to the Future of Learning and Work
Reflecting on the lessons of the pandemic period and the rapidly changing workplace, Lieven De Groodt, Global Learning and Deloitte University Leader at Deloitte, and Wassili Bertoen, Managing Partner at the Deloitte Center for the Edge, focused on the pressing need for digital transformation and digital skills as well as the vital importance of lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling and of cultivating curiosity and extroversion.
Education Fast Forward: Building a Future that Works for All
Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills, expounded on the shortcomings of the Greek education system and argued for the creation of a new educational environment, with more equality, better fund allocation, and a reimagined and expanded role for educators.
Innovation and Technological Shifts in Education and Labor Markets
Focusing on digital acceleration, Allyson Parco, research analyst at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, highlighted the positive impact of new technologies that make life—and education—easier, but also pointed to concerns about access, data security and user rights.
Provide a Transformative Educational Experience for All Students
Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations at Duke University, Michael J. Schoenfeld emphasized the significance of expertise, research funding and collaboration with other institutions in improving a university’s global ranking, highlighted the validity of hybrid teaching, and discussed issues of affordability and equal access in higher education.
Preparing Today’s Business Knowledge for Tomorrow’s Demand on Digital Competence and Soft Skills
The need to close Greece’s digital gap was the focus of Luca Lepore, Corporate Business Development Manager South Europe at Cisco, who underlined the importance of focusing on digital skills reskilling and upskilling and creating the conditions for the inclusion of more women in the industry.
European Skills Agenda Strengthening Sustainable Competitiveness
Vice President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili discussed the European Skills Agenda and best practices among member states for the efficient use of EU funds, pointing to the urgency to invest in digital literacy and introduce digital education from a very young age.
Talking Europe: Inclusion, Mobility and Digital Learning in Exceptional Times
Themis Christophidou, Director General for Education and Culture at the European Commission, spoke on interoperability in education—focusing on inclusion, digital learning, and cooperation among universities, including mobility programs, and digital learning—and the EC’s Digital Education Action Plan for high-quality, inclusive and accessible European digital education.
EU Stem Observatory Report
The lack of proper consulting in early education institutions and weaknesses in STEM education were the focus of Christos Theocharopoulos, Principal at Deloitte Consulting, who stressed the importance of adequately preparing university students for the demands of the labor market.
Entrepreneurship at Universities as a Catalyst for Innovation
From hackathons to employing entrepreneurs as mentors, Steve Stevens, Coordinator of DO! at Ghent University, looked at ways to combine theory with practice, enhance the role of entrepreneurship in education and empower the collaboration between students and companies.
Changing Longstanding Mindsets in Education
Pericles A. Mitkas, President of the Hellenic Authority for Higher Education, highlighted efforts to modernize Greek universities and boost their extroversion and internationalization and also discussed issues facing higher education in Greece, such as the student-faculty ratio.
Tourism Education Aligning Market Requirements
Deputy Minister of Tourism Sofia Zacharaki looked at some of the key challenges of tourism education in Greece today and discussed government efforts to address these and enhance the quality and scope of tourism education.
Workforce Development in Agriculture
The impact of new tech, including AI, on agriculture was the focus of Brian J. Schilling, Director of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, who discussed current challenges and future prospects of the agricultural sector, describing the farmers of the future as entrepreneurs, crisis managers, and creative problemsolvers.
Opening Keynote Address
Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, noted the benefits of study abroad experiences—such as developing a broader international mindset, cross-cultural understanding and collaborative problemsolving—and spoke about the cooperation between US and Greek universities and the opportunities afforded to students.
Education and Training of Adults in Greece: Future Needs and Necessary Changes
Referring to Greece’s inadequate standard of adult education and training, Professor Emeritus Alexis Kokkos of the Hellenic Open University, examined the attitudes and systemic shortcomings contributing to the problem and discussed the particular conditions, limitations and needs that must be addressed in order for Greece to achieve meaningful improvement in the field.
Meeting Future Skills Needs: Revolution or Evolution?
The lack of advanced skills and specialization in tech, particularly in fields such as robotics and automation, was the focus of the discussion between Konstantinos Koukountzos, Managing Director at Kleemann, Costas Malamas, Managing Partner at Veltio Greece, and George Milonas, President and CEO of Alumil, who concurred that educational institutions and businesses must work together to address the skills mismatch between university graduates and the needs of the labor market.
Bringing Closer Theoretical Education to Practice – Market Needs
Bridging the gap between acquiring knowledge and developing expertise was the focus of Nikos Papaioannou, Rector of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who underlined the important role of apprenticeships and training courses in fully preparing graduates for the labor market and also praised the Erasmus+ program for promoting intercultural communication and knowledge sharing.
Ignite the Future Through Education
Scott Ralls, President of the Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina, discussed Wake Tech’s experience connecting education with business needs through a range of academic and vocational programs, noting that the cooperation between government, educational institutions and businesses has brought economic growth to the region.
The Key Factor of Apprenticeship in Expanding Opportunities for Knowledge and Skill
Robert Lerman, Fellow at the Urban Institute’s Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, focused on the impact of apprenticeships in preparing and empowering students for the labor market and outlined mechanisms and standards needed in an effective apprenticeship system, highlighting the government’s role in providing more funding and incentives.
How Technology Transfer Ecosystem Bridges Research Activity with Innovation and the Real Economy
Noting that Greece has the potential to become a leading R&D and innovation hub in the Balkans, Christos Dimas, Deputy Minister for Research and Technology at the Ministry of Development and Investments, and Nico Gariboldi, Site Lead – Global Center for Digital Innovation – Senior Director at Pfizer, discussed the need to enhance research infrastructure, expand reskilling and upskilling efforts, further link education and innovation, and foster women’s entrepreneurship, while they also recognized Elevate Greece as an important tool for the country’s startups.
Skills Development and Lifelong Learning Governance
Siria Taurelli, Senior Human Capital Development Expert Coordinator for Governance and Quality Assurance at the European Training Foundation, looked at lifelong learning throughout the different stages of education and examined the role of the public and private sectors in ensuring wide participation and effective implementation.
Skills Supply and Demand in the Labor Market
Change and development were the key themes for Spiros Protopsaltis, Governor and Chairman of the BoD at DYPA, Greece’s Public Employment Service, who discussed institutional reform in the vocational training system, OAED’s rebranding to DYPA, its investment in digitalization, and plans to boost employment among young people. He further noted the barriers to employment women still face as they are called to take on the double burden of paid work and domestic labor.
Entrepreneurship and STEM Education
Rania Lampou, Director of Educational Technology and Innovation at the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, emphasized the importance of encouraging interaction and creativity in STEM education and including it in national curricula starting with primary education; she also underlined the need to address the limited participation of girls and the barriers to access to STEM programs faced by students from low income families.
The Way Forward: Strengthening Local Skills Partnerships
Deputy Minister of Interior (Sector of Macedonia-Thrace), Stavros Kalafatis and Mayor of Thessaloniki Konstantinos Zervas joined Vassilis Kafatos, Vice President of AmChamGR’s BoD and Partner – Competence Center President at Deloitte Greece, in a discussion on innovation and investment in Northern Greece. They pointed to the high caliber of the region’s educational institutions, its highly skilled workforce and thriving industries, and the major transport infrastructure projects that will transform connectivity in Thessaloniki and across the region; they noted Thessaloniki’s high quality of life, unique and distinguishing characteristics, and its growing international recognition as a world-class destination; and they underlined efforts to better align education and skills training with the needs of the labor market, stressing the impact of the various major investments and projects already undertaken by, and in partnership with, global tech and business heavyweights. In all these elements, they recognized the creation of a unique momentum with the potential to establish Thessaloniki as a fully-fledged international technology and innovation hub.
Platinum Sponsor: Deloitte
Gold Sponsors: Cisco, Pfizer
Silver Sponsors: Alumil, Kleemann, Kouimtzis, Margaropoulos & Associates – Scientia Legis Law Firm
Thessaloniki Future Thinking Dialogues was launched in 2021 to showcase Thessaloniki’s immense potential and serve as a platform for open dialogue, analysis and the exchange of insights and ideas. It brings together key stakeholders from across the board to discuss the latest relevant developments in business, education and the economy, put forward proposals on important issues concerning these fields and their respective local ecosystems, and identify investment opportunities and key areas of interest. Now in its second year, TFTD has already established itself as one of the key events focusing on Northern Greece and, with an eye to the future, works to strengthen and advance the outstanding culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that makes Thessaloniki a leading talent and technology hub in the region.